Image via WikipediaTwo stories caught my eye this week as I was perusing my usual news and info websites around the web. The first was the story (ultimately proven to be a hoax) that Gordon Lightfoot had died. And no, that is not a picture of Gordon to the right; he's not that old :-)
If you're a Canadian over 40 (okay, maybe over 50), then Gordon Lightfoot is an icon and for the most part you couldn't imagine Canada without him. That's not to say that he hasn't had his share of problems and controversy over the years, but his music is inherently woven into the tapestry of Canadian culture like no other. I went to see him a few years back when he came to Victoria. Although I've played his songs and taught his songs to my guitar students for many years, I had never actually seen him perform in person. He is what you might consider a kind of a shy performer. He chats a little, but other than when he is singing, he seems almost uncomfortable in a way. He battled with the bottle for many years, likely a habit he got into to overcome his discomfort on the stage. But the one thing that stood out for me was that he plays all of those songs of his exactly as he did on his recordings...not one of them, no matter how old the song, was changed up even a little bit. You find that a lot of performers tend to play songs a little differently as time goes by, probably out of boredom rather than anything else! But not Gord. There have been true reports over the last few years that he has had some health issues. Which is probably why people believed the news.
As it turned out, rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated. It's not that death rumours about famous people weren't flying around before the advent of the internet. That quote ("rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated") is a very old example of that; Mark Twain (who is pictured above) was rumoured to have died, so a reporter was sent to investigate only to find that it was a cousin of Mark Twain's who had actually passed away. Bob Hope used that quote when he was rumoured to have died a couple of years before he actually did.
The difference now is that the web can spread a rumour faster than corn goes through a goose. Most of us are not so naive as to believe everything we read, especially Twitter tweets. But apparently a respected reporter did just that; and when he saw a tweet about the passing of Gordon Lightfoot, because it came from what he thought was a trusted source, he passed it onto his readers and before you knew it the web was afire with the news. And, of course, Lightfoot turned out to be very much alive.
So this is an interesting, if somewhat tenuous age of communication we're experiencing. Traditional media is competing with all kinds of bogus blogging and misinformation floating around with no truth filter to help us determine what we should and shouldn't take as gospel. How do they compete with fancy website names and popular social networks in a way that brings attention back to where people know they can trust what they're reading? The media can obviously try to embrace this new information age, and they have, but as in the example above, sometimes that gets them into more trouble than it's worth.
This morning I saw another story that piqued my interest. At a high school near Philadelphia, each student is given a MacBook laptop to use at school and at home for their studies. How wonderful! Naturally, each laptop has a webcam and the students can use the webcam to take pictures, etc., BUT there's more to that feature than meets the eye! A webcam is a window into your world, and I imagine some well-intentioned school superintendent saw an opportunity to monitor the kids' use of the laptop and didn't think anything more of it. You can see that one turning into a scandal in no time.
When one of the students received a notice from the assistant principal saying that he had been using the laptop for "improper behaviour", the student filed a civil complaint. That's when everyone became aware of this "security feature" installed on each laptop. The original idea was to be able to find the laptop if it was lost or stolen, but they were also using it to monitor the student's use of it. So what exactly would they be able to see when the laptop is on in a girl's bedroom, for instance? A scandal indeed.
Yesterday I ran into trouble with my desktop computer and finally had to take it into the shop to have it looked at. As I was standing in line, the fellow in front of me, packing his Dell desktop, started to explain a problem he was having with it. The technician told him that it sounded like a computer virus. But the owner insisted that he had security up the yin yang and it couldn't be that. Why, just the other day a window popped up telling him he had a particular virus and all he had to do was download this program which would get rid of it! Most of you (I hope) recognize his error. For those of you who don't, this pop-up he saw was the virus itself, and when he clicked onto it, what he was doing was installing the virus on his computer.
I have friends on Facebook who join groups that promise everything: join that group and win a free computer, join this group and a dollar will go to Haiti, join another group and protest the fact that Facebook is going to start charging us to be members soon. All of these groups are bogus, but people join every one of them and try to encourage me and all of their other friends to join too. It happens again and again. Age doesn't even seem to be a factor; young and old fall into the same naive traps over and over. You might laugh, but let's face it; the internet is a big world and we can't possibly know everything about it. Only the most tech-savvy computer nerds really see the majority of what is going on. More than ever, we have to remember not to trust everything we read on the web, to ask questions before we buy or install or accept "free" anything, and to try not to be so naive.
If we do that, then the weird wired world we live in can also become quite wonderful!